In his blog for May 9, the veteran Italian commentator, Sandro Magister, explains why Pope Francis doesn’t give Communion when he is celebrating Mass, except in rare cases. Although the Holy Father has given no explicit explanation himself of why he has chosen this course, Magister points out that “there is one page in a book he published in 2010 that allows one to infer the motives at the origin of this practice.” In the book, the then Archbishop of Buenos Aires refers to parishioners “who have killed… indirectly, with improper management of capital, paying unjust wages…We know that they pass themselves off as Catholics but practice indecent behaviour of which they do not repent. For this reason, on some occasions I do not give Communion, I stay back and let assistants do it because I do not want these persons to approach me for a photo.”
Bergoglio continued: “One may also deny Communion to a known sinner who has not repented” but acknowledged that “it is very difficult to prove these things.” He added, “Receiving Communion means receiving the body of the Lord, with the awareness of forming a community. But if a man, rather than uniting the people of God, has devastated the lives of many persons, he cannot receive Communion. It would be a total contradiction.” He described such behaviour as “spiritual hypocrisy” and “leading a double life.”
Magister comments that the Holy Father might sense the same danger, now that he is Pope, and so “for this reason, he would be adopting the same prudential conduct.” The then Archbishop used the example of economic malpractice, but as Magister comments, the same principle applies to “public support for pro-abortion laws on the part of politicians who profess themselves to be Catholic.” He also points out that on March 19, for the inaugural Mass of Pope Francis’s pontificate, Vice- President Joe Biden and Leader of the Democrats, Nancy Pelosi, both publicly pro-abortion and both Catholic, were present “and both received Communion” – but not from the hands of the Pope “who was seated behind the altar.”
In a further commentary on this principle, CFNews for May 12 has an item about the Republic of Ireland. It seems that Cardinal Sean Brady has stated that the Irish bishops have not considered barring politicians who vote to legalise abortion from receiving Communion. This is currently a pressing concern in the Republic, as on April 30 the coalition government introduced a “Protection of Life during Pregnancy” bill which would allow doctors to abort a child in cases where the mother’s life is threatened – including if she threatens suicide, a very wide and loose provision. According to Cardinal Brady – clearly picking his words carefully – politicians “would have to follow their own conscience” and that among the bishops “there would be a great reluctance to politicize the Eucharist.”
What on earth can he mean by this? Surely receiving Communion signifies being in communion with your fellow communicants within the ecclesial community? And if you are out of communion on a matter as fundamental as the right to life, surely you have chosen to cut yourself off from the community of fellow worshippers? Father Ray Blake, a popular blogger, quoted in the same CFNews item above, writes of the “hypocrisy and cant” of many ecclesiastics, adding that Cardinal Brady “wishes to strip the Eucharist of any meaning of Communion, or morality, and render it a meaningless symbol.” He commented, “What Brady seems to be suggesting is that there should be no connection with morality and belief.”
Former Pope Benedict XVI would seem to agree with Fr Ray Blake rather than with Cardinal Brady. In a letter of 2004 to the US bishops, entitled “Worthiness to receive Holy Communion”, the then Cardinal Ratzinger wrote that when politicians continue to have “formal cooperation” with abortion, “the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it” to him. No problems here with scruples about “politicization” I note.
See in this light, and to avoid all possible scandal, Pope Francis’s behaviour seems entirely prudent.